By Lee Foster
All of us following Joel’s The Book Designer website have at least one common goal: We want to sell more books, either existing books or books we are now developing.
How will we sell those books? It’s apparent that one important element in the selling strategy for most of us will be our own websites. This tool allows us to contact new customers efficiently.
But how effective are our current practices on our websites? Could they be improved? Is this a time to put serious attention into this issue?
There’s a lot to consider, especially for some timely critical decisions that our “partners” in publicity, especially Google Search, are urging us to implement.
Your Website: The Only Cyber Real Estate You Totally Own
It’s good to get the metaphysics straight at the start. Cyberspace is a big place, and there are black holes that can swallow you up.
There is only one place in cyber real estate that you totally own. That is your website. For me, that is www.fostertravel.com. It is helpful to buy a few more domains, such as your name, so I have www.leefoster.com. The “your-name” domain can point to your site. You may have a specialty and will want that domain also, as I have www.northerncaliforniatravelplanner.com.
On your website you can encourage people to sign up for your email announcements. No one will ever be able to take these fans away from you.
Your presence in social media is something entirely different. You should work to create that social media presence, but accept that you do not own and control it. What you create in social media can be taken away.
I find it a good practice to post something on my website once a week, usually about my books, and then amplify it as an announcement in social media. I encourage you to do the same.
Your social media may be parallel to mine, which are
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lee.foster
- Twitter: www.twitter.com//@fostertravel
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/fostertravel/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fostertravelpublishing/
The important reality to internalize about these social media is that they are necessary, but beyond your control. You can work hard to achieve results in them, but all your gains can be eliminated.
I once heard someone joke that the big decisions in all these social media were being made by a guy in the back room, whose name was Al. No one ever saw him, but he flipped all the switches. If he liked you, you flourished. His full name was Al Gorithm.
I’ve watched this happen to my colleagues as they invested in social media they didn’t own. Some of my travel journalism friends have Facebook business pages. They worked hard to get a thousand followers. Then they posted about their books. But Facebook only sent their post to perhaps 5% of their followers. Facebook suggested they buy ads to get to the rest of the followers they had enticed. Facebook encouraged them to invest more and attract the great world beyond. Could this strategy be a slippery slope for an author/publisher?
There’s a major social media player missing today on my list. The player was there last month. Can you guess the name? Yes, it’s Google+. I posted to Google+ since it was invented. I always wanted to be present in anything The Great God Google recommended.
However, now, if you are following the news, Google is pulling the plug on Google+ for the consumer world, but perhaps keeping it for corporate in-house communications. A colleague of mine, a major travel writer named Gary Arndt, who has an ambitiously named website EverythingEverywhere, had achieved 1.8 million Google+ followers. That was once worth a great deal. As Google+ shuts down, it is worth exactly nothing, except to show Gary’s agility at attracting customers in the new digital era.
What The Great God Google Suggests You Consider
I have mentioned The Great God Google, and I hope that this god will not think I am taking his/her/its name in vain. I have no wish to irritate The Great God Google in any way. I depend on this god for my salvation.
Google Search will dominate your world and have a profound effect of your success. Google for Search and Amazon for Selling Books will decide the relative success of most authors. Google provides 80% of the traffic to my Foster Travel Publishing website.
Will Google give your website the search results you long for?
That depends. Google wants its search customers to be happy and hang around, and feel that Google has solved all of the customer’s problems. A satisfied customer, hanging around on Google, will likely click on a Google ad. Google is not particularly interested in whether its customer buys your book. In fact, Google might be happy to display enough of a snippet from your book to keep its customer on Google, satisfied. That is another issue for us to discuss at another time.
But, most immediately, to satisfy its customers, Google will reward you with search gifts if you comply. Google wants your website to be:
About 50% of the traffic on my website is from folks hanging out on their cellphones. Is your website mobile friendly?
Folks are increasingly concerned about their security and privacy, both for their identity and their transactions. They want to see that little green padlock on the left side of the URL for your website. Have you (or your website design person) been attentive to getting this organized?
And most recently, is your website now:
It’s not easy to keep up with the latest acronyms. This GDPR is something the European Union threw at Google and everyone else. It’s known as the General Data Protection Regulation. It means that if your viewer lives in Dordrecht, Netherlands, that viewer may or may not want to give you permission to track on your website that the visitor came to your site from Dordrecht.
Folks are getting fussy about their privacy. More than transactions are involved. Consent for simply recording participation is the issue. Your website should have an opt-in opportunity for folks to agree to let you capture their personal info, including where they are from.
No one seems to know exactly how this GDPR matter will shake out. There’s always that guy in the back room, Al, who just might flip the switch on this and demote in search results all websites that are not compliant. Do you want to wait and risk that, or do you want to become compliant?
Does Your Website Need Refreshment in Hosting, Theme, and Plugins?
Websites might be seen as living, breathing entities that need to grow and evolve.
My website began in 1995 as a basic HTML site at the birth of the Internet. I had one of the first viable travel journalism sites. HTML refers to the language of website building, which is “hypertext markup language.”
By 2009 WordPress had emerged with enough followers and a projected future dominance. It was helpful to rebuild my website in that structure. WordPress should be your structure today. I found a competent website designer in San Francisco, Bradley Charbonneau, to choose a theme and construct my website. The strategy I wanted, and recommend, is “managed website hosting.” Choose a theme, buy space on a host, and get a design person to help you set up the website.
In 2016 I experienced anxiety because Bradley decided to move his family to Europe and discontinue his website guidance. WordPress had also evolved in the interim years with stronger themes, requiring less “custom coding.” But who would be my website-building partner? I found my match in Jeffrey Samorano, who does his work from Chico, California.
In this brief story you can detect the elements you might want to refresh. They are:
I started with GoDaddy, moved with Bradley to HostGator, then moved again with Jeffrey to WP Engine, which I now recommend.
WP Engine hosts WordPress websites only, totally dedicated to this structure. WordPress is now so dominant that there are 100k Jeffreys worldwide who could help me.
Countless people are developing themes and plugins to make the basic WordPress structure work better. With my “managed hosting” strategy I had my designer choose my theme, which I paid for, and then locate my website on the WP Engine server. I am free to move to another host if I wish.
Bradley chose a good theme for 2009, but Jeffrey’s recommendation of the Newspaper theme in 2017 was now better.
The Newspaper theme could handle my subjects (California Travel, Publishing, and Worldwide Travel) in detail. Very little custom work was required.
Choose a theme for which the developer is getting a lot of paid sales. The developer is likely to remain motivated to improve the theme and keep it updated as new WordPress versions roll out. Avada is the most popular theme of all. Newspaper, which is newer and younger, is now #11 in paid sales.
I have a dozen different plugins on my website that handle various tasks. I appreciate that Jeffrey spends his waking moments studying this entire subject of themes, plugins, and host. He does the updates. When there are conflicts with updates, as there sometimes are, and things don’t look right, he solves the problem.
Search Engine Optimization
My most important new plugin is Yoast, for Search Engine Optimizations (SEO). About 91 million people have downloaded Yoast for their websites, and I pay $89/year for their Premium version, so I can ask direct questions of Yoast.
I don’t have the technical knowledge or desire to acquire the knowledge to manage my website tech details myself. I recommend that you find someone like Jeffrey to help with website design and focus on your author subject. A good website design person can set you up to do all the routine swap in and out stuff yourself, with the website design person handling structural changes, updating of theme and plugins, and your possible desire to add more functionality to your website in the future.
Once you have arranged your basic WordPress structure, your work is not over. Every article on your website can be improved with better Search Engine Optimization. If you have a large website, as I have, with more than 500 content articles, the prospect can be discouraging.
But when you improve SEO on a single article and see a jump in search engine results, the effort can be gratifying.
On my next post I’ll share one good-news story, how improving a single seasonal post with better SEO brought a large upsurge of visitors for that post. I have the comparative data on sessions for 2017 and 2018. I’ll itemize for you the SEO changes that made this post rank much higher for views in Google Search.